BEIJING – China’s most ambitious new film production facility, the Wuxi Studio, on Thursday named Sid Ganis, a Hollywood executive and former President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, honorary chairperson for development and promotion.
Ms. Zhu Weiping, Communist Party Secretary of the Binhu district of Wuxi, a city of 4.5 million 45 minutes northwest of Shanghai by bullet train, made the announcement from the grounds of what will be, by year’s end, China’s first designated digital film industrial park.
Chinawood, as the project’s been dubbed, has reportedly taken millions in funding from the local government of the city, which Forbes named 2008's third-best business city in China. Nicknamed "Little Shanghai" because of its proximity to China's commercial hub and its rapid urbanization and booming economy, Wuxi could become a destination for international filmmakers, Ganis said.
“Hollywood’s always looking for another place to accommodate its productions and save costs, from nice hotels to nice sound stages and new and different locations,” said the former vice chairman of Sony Pictures Entertainment and president of Paramount Pictures, who first visited China three years ago in his role as head of AMPAS.
Ganis plans to help Wuxi by introducing American film companies wishing to work in China: “I’m an old-time studio guy, so I get what they’re trying to do. Everything will be there in one location, and that’s very appealing.”
Though the Wuxi site was only a “hole in the ground” when he last saw it in person in November, Ganis said “it was well beyond the planning stages and into the practical construction.”
With the Los Angeles offices of internationally renowned architectural firms MSI and Gensler responsible for completing the master planning and architectural design, construction at Wuxi began in September and phase I will be completed by end of 2011, Ganis’ office said.
Phase I consists of converting an old steel mill into six soundstages and space for numerous post-production facilities. Phase II will include five additional soundstages and will be completed in three to five years, during which time the park expects to be fully functioning.
Wuxi, Ganis said, will become “a mirror of what one might do here in Los Angeles, but not quite. It’ll be even more, because it’s meant to be all disciplines in one location.”
Built on the shores of Lake Tai, Wuxi city, best known as home of the largest solar panel manufacturers on earth, could lend itself nicely to
location shooting; it almost doubles, in places, for Shanghai's famous riverside Bund. In fact, Wuxi has long been home to a production base built by China Central Television in 1987, which churns out hundreds of TV dramas a year.
Skeptics say the Wuxi development could be a real estate scam in an overheated market cooked up by shady developers eager to raise the value of the land around the site. But in China, wilder success stories have come true: In the mid-1990s, a farmer-turned-millionaire started building a film studio in Hengdian, in neighboring Zhejiang province. By the early 2000s, Hengdian World Studios was one of the largest in Asia, boasting more than 815 acres.
In China's boom economy, Wuxi hopes to attract the growing number of co-productions from overseas that are interested in shooting in China -- and that want to secure access to the nation's growing boxoffice, up 64% in 2010 to $1.5 billion.
Wuxi hopes to include companies that offer digital pre-production, production and post-production services as well as traditional disciplines
including license approval, shooting, location scouting and distribution, Ganis’ office said.
Co-productions made in China can skirt the governments 20-title limit on the number of film imports allowed each year to share in a cut of the gross sales they make at the domestic box office.
Other Wuxi tenants could include visual effects, CG animation, cloud computing, software and hardware and R&D companies, as well as training facilities in various disciplines.
“Instead of needing to post in other countries, filmmakers will now be able to complete their films in China at Wuxi Studio,” Ganis said. “We are just at the beginning of this exciting enterprise, and are inviting the international film community to set up satellite facilities at Wuxi Studios and participate in this opportunity.”
Zhu, for her part, said, “China’s creative community wants to work closely with the international film world to make Wuxi Studios a world-class hub for the creative community. With China’s current box office growth, we want to have a park which can provide all the elements to support the vast digital world.”
Now heading his own independent production company, Out of the Blue Entertainment, Ganis is working on Wuxi business development with Rita Cahill, a former marketing vp at Cinesite, a founding organizer of the Singapore International Film Festival and a co-founder of the Mill Valley Film Festival.